August 29, 2009

Mushroom Strudel

Mushroom Strudel

I love mushrooms of all sorts, and I enjoy using them in all sorts of ways, even in dessert. But I'd never thought about making a savoury strudel until I decided I needed a new side dish for Fall. It's much easier than it sounds: make duxelles, wrap in phyllo, then bake until done.

To make duxelles you'll need:  about a pound of mushrooms; 2-4 shallots; minced parsely or other fresh herbs; extra virgin olive oil; clarified butter; and cream, sour cream, or crème fraîche. You can make duxelles without butter, but it certainly won't taste quite as good. I can't imagine it without crème fraîche, either, but if you want to avoid dairy completely, you can just leave it out.

Clean and chop the mushrooms. You'll find all sorts of silliness out there about not washing mushrooms. If you have dirty mushrooms, and the dirt doesn't just brush off, go right ahead and rinse them under cold running water. Just don't let the 'shrooms soak or have any reasonable chance to absorb water. Set the chopped mushrooms aside.

Next, dice the shallots. You can do a fine dice if you wish, but what really matters is consistent size. Preheat a sauté pan on medium heat with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil, add the shallots, and sauté until translucent. Then add the chopped mushrooms, the herbs, and some salt and freshly ground pepper.

It's very important to season early so that you don't have to use too much salt. Moreover, early seasoning produces more profound flavors.

Stir the mixture frequently while it sautés. When the pan starts to dry out, add some clarified butter, not too much, but enough to avoid burning. You'll continue to sauté until the mushrooms give up their water. At that point you might add some wine if you have an open bottle. Red or white really doesn't matter.

Continue sautéing until the pan is dry again. If you're using crème fraîche or another dairy product, add it at this point. You'll use enough to wet the mixture, but not enough to make it soupy. Reduce for a minute or two until the mixture begins to dry out. Set aside to cool. After the duxelles has cooled to near room temperature, taste and adjust the seasoning.

To assemble the strudel, you'll need phyllo dough, clarified butter or olive oil, and parchment paper. Lay a piece of parchment paper on a sheet or cookie pan. Lay down one sheet of dough, brush with butter, then repeat until you have used at least seven sheets. Spoon the duxelles onto the dough about a third of the way from the edge. Carefully fold the short side of the dough over the duxelles, then roll the strudel and seal with the butter.

Using a serrated knife, carefully cut slits in the top of the pastry. If you wish, sprinkle some kosher or sea salt on top--I used a mixture of fleur de sel and porcini powder. Bake in a 350°F/180°C oven until done, generally 20-30 minutes.

As you probably know, duxelles is useful for all sorts of seasoning tasks, and can be served as a side dish on its own. It also freezes well and will last for 1-2 months.

August 28, 2009

Applewood-Smoked Country Ribs

Glazed Ribs

Country style pork ribs have great flavor, but they can be difficult to cook well. Hot smoking is an excellent way to prepare country style ribs or any other protein.

Start the ribs by brining them for better flavor and to retain moisture. I used enough apple juice to cover the ribs in a bowl, then added a splash of chardonnay, about a teaspoon of sea salt, and a pinch of garlic powder. I let them sit in the brine for about an hour. Larger cuts will require more time and more salt. The rule-of-thumb is 20 parts liquid to one part salt, by weight.

Smoking doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment. You'll need some sort of heat source--a barbecue grill, stovetop, or oven will work fine. If you're smoking on the stovetop or in the oven, you'll also need some sort of covered pan to use as a smoker. If you don't have a dedicated smoker, simply cover all interior surfaces of a pan and lid with foil. Any bit of pan not covered will be discolored by the smoke, usually permanently.

You'll also need something to generate flavor--wood chips, herbs, or tea, for example. If you use wood chips, start by soaking them in liquid for about half an hour. I used applewood chips and soaked them in apple juice and chardonnay. If you're using dried herbs or tea, you'll need to add sugar to generate plenty of smoke.

Hot smoking cooks food rather quickly because of the use of high heat, while still imparting good smoky flavor. If you're using an outdoor grill, get it warmed up and get the smoke going before you begin to cook your food. If you're doing it on the stovetop you'll put the flavor components on the bottom of the foil-lined pan, then put the protein on a rack over the flavorings, then cover and apply heat.

Smoke the food on a rack until it reaches an appropriate internal temperature--170°F/77°C for pork. The color of smoked meat doesn't change nearly as much as with more direct cooking methods. Pork, for example, remains pink in the interior.

To finish the ribs, I made a simple apple glaze by reducing until nicely thickened about 2 cups of apple juice, a splash of pinot gris, a pinch of garlic powder, and a cinnamon stick. After the thickening, I removed the cinnamon and added the ribs to glaze them. Served at room temperature, the ribs made a sweet and smoky appetizer.

August 22, 2009

Home Creamery: Chèvre


Chèvre is a cheese that commands a premium in the marketplace. I always assumed that there was a real art to making good chèvre. Turns out that it's embarrassingly easy!

To make this cheese you need a gallon of goat milk, a packet of chèvre culture, a colander, some butter muslin, a thermometer, and a stainless steel pan with lid. I purchased my culture through New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.

So here's the big secret. Heat the milk to 86°, sprinkle the culture onto the milk and stir it in, then cover. Keep the covered pan in a warm place for 12 hours while the bacteria do their magic. Then carefully lift the curds into a colander lined with butter muslin. You can leave it in the colander or hang it, your choice. Let it drain for 12 hours. Yield is about 2 pounds. If you've made yogurt, you have all the skills needed for chèvre.

You could choose to mold it into logs, or into boules, or not at all. I molded it by packing a ramekin full, then turning the cheese out into a container to marinate. I let the cheese marinate in extra virgin olive oil with some fresh herbs until ready to serve.

The recipes you'll find usually call for pasteurized goat milk, and that's the legal thing to do. I, however, am a scofflaw and used raw goat milk. It made a truly delightful chèvre.

August 21, 2009

Cherry Liqueur

Cherry LiqueurHere in the Pacific Northwest we have an abundance of cherries, particularly Rainier and Bing cherries. When I saw Rainier cherries for $1.49 per pound, I knew it was time to try making a liqueur.

Cherry Liqueur 1I started with two pounds of Rainier cherries, unpitted, and added 1½ cups of sugar and a fifth of grain alcohol. I let it sit outside in the sun for four weeks.

Cherry Liqueur 2After four weeks, I strained the liquor and discarded the Rainiers. Then I added two pounds of pitted Bing cherries, 1 cup sugar, one cinnamon stick about 3" long, and two vanilla pods. I let that mixture sit for two weeks in the sun.

Then I strained the liquor again and added two pounds pitted Bings, two cinnamon sticks, 8 whole cloves, and 750ml French brandy. After one more week, I gave it a taste.

I think it's done, but I'm letting half of the liqueur continue to steep. It certainly isn't the best liqueur I've ever tasted, but it was fun to make, and it will make an excellent flavoring for desserts. Maybe I'll just call it cherry extract.

August 14, 2009

Pan-Roasted Carrots

Roasted Carrots

Intrigued by the title, I was browsing through Think Like a Chef byTom Colicchio the other day and came across his recipe for pan-roasted carrots. The sheer simplicity of this dish inspired me to do my own version.

Chef Colicchio calls for 16 peeled and trimmed carrots, salt and pepper, 4 sprigs of rosemary, 1 tablespoon of butter, and 4 teaspoons of honey. Sounds delicious, but I want a little less sweetness, so I use balsamic vinegar, and less of it. I also object to peeling the carrots, because I don't want to lose all the flavor and nutrients in the peel. I also skipped the pepper, but freshly ground white pepper would be a nice addition.

Start with nice carrots, by which I mean carrots that are of about the same size, are straight, and hopefully are fresh from a garden. Wash them, and optionally peel them. Make sure to dry the carrots to avoid splattering.

Preheat a large fry or sauté pan over medium heat with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. When the pan is ready, add the carrots. Every so often over the next twenty minutes or so, turn the carrots so that the whole carrot is roasted.

When the carrots look like they're done, add a spear or two of fresh rosemary. Continue cooking and turning the carrots for another five minutes or so. Then add a tablespoon of butter and drizzle them with balsamic vinegar.

As the butter melts, turn the carrots to coat all the way around with butter and balsamic. Much of the butter will remain in the pan, and the rosemary is really only there to perfume the carrots. The balsamic darkens the caramelization and adds its own sweetness. Remove the carrots from the pan to a serving dish and sprinkle liberally with Fleur de Sel.

These things are so good I eat them as a snack!

August 11, 2009

Tuscan Steak

Tuscan Steak

Is it really Tuscan? No, but it has flavors I think of when I think of Tuscany: lemon, rosemary, olive oil.

Tuscan Steak MiseThis is a simple preparation. Rub olive oil into the steak, then sprinkle on some freshly ground pepper (I used a blend of tellicherry black, malabar white, and pink peppercorns), sea salt, rosemary (fresh from the garden, of course), and lemon zest. Be sure to season both sides. Let rest for 30 minutes or so, then grill.

After the steak has grilled to your desired degree of doneness, let it rest for five minutes or so. I used that time to step out to the garden, select a couple of tomatoes, rinse them off, and slice them. I finished the steak by drizzling some Villa Manodori balsamic vinegar on it.

The tomatoes were dressed with a bit of Villa Manodori extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and then dusted with a hint of Fleur de Sel. I added a bit of Black Jack Cheese from Scott "Dominic" Catino to round out an excellent meal.

August 9, 2009

Progressive Dinner

Drop by Drick's Rambling Cafe for a progressive dinner. On the menu: a tibetan meat pastry appetizer, a Vietnamese salad, Tomates à la Japonaise, some lovely Chinese roast pork, and then two fine desserts!

I'll be posting more cheese later this week, including my first chèvre.

August 8, 2009

Sauces: Carbonara

Fettuccine Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara is a relatively recent addition to Italian cuisine. The sauce varies regionally within Italy as well as by country, and the pasta isn't firmly traditional either.

Apparently the original sauce was made with guanciale, black pepper, pecorino romano, and eggs. Pancetta and bacon are commonly substituted for the guanciale, and parmigiano-reggiano for the pecorino (or in combination with it). Sometimes it's made with cream instead of or in addition to egg yolks. Peas, broccoli, or other vegetables might be added for color. The pasta can be just about anything, with various regions claiming their own preferred pasta as the "only" acceptable one.

First, I made some fettuccine. Then, before starting the sauce, I put a pot of heavily salted water on to bring it to the rolling boil needed for cooking pasta.

I made the carbonara sauce by first cutting some lardons from a recent batch of bacon. Because the bacon is less fatty than mass-produced bacon seems to be, I used extra virgin olive oil in the fry pan to avoid sticking when I crisped the lardons.

Once the bacon had rendered some of its fat, I added diced onion, and then two cloves of garlic, minced. When the onion became translucent, I added a pint of heavy cream and reduced the heat to a simmer.

While the cream reduced, I grated some pecorino romano and parmigiano-reggiano, reserving some of the parmigiano-reggiano to sprinkle on top as a garnish. Then I added the cheeses and some freshly ground black pepper to the cream reduction and stirred until the cheeses were fully incorporated.

When the sauce was ready, I cooked the pasta and added it to the fry pan without draining it dry. A gentle stir of the pasta and sauce and it was ready to serve.

Notice, please, that I didn't add any salt at all, except to the pasta cooking water. Some of that water migrated to the fry pan with the pasta, which both seasoned and thinned the sauce. Cheeses are also salty, so be very careful about adding any salt to whatever sauce you're making.

If I had made a more traditional carbonara sauce, I would have left out the cream. Instead, I would have added one raw egg yolk per serving to the pasta in the fry pan along with plenty of freshly cracked black pepper. The residual heat of the pasta is enough to cook the yolks when you toss the pasta.

August 6, 2009

Technique: Egg Pasta Dough


I have home-cured bacon. How can I not make a carbonara sauce? But first, I need some pasta to put it on.

If you've never made egg pasta, it really isn't as hard as you might think. It may not be as easy as Mario Batali makes it look on Iron Chef America, but it's easy nonetheless.

Pasta 1The recipe is about as simple as it can get: one egg and ½ cup of flour per portion. I find it's best to add a portion for the table, so if you have four for dinner, make five portions. That way you have an abundance.

You can make it in a bowl if you wish, or mix it with a mixer. I prefer to use a fork and just make a mess on the counter since the counter is going to get messy anyway.

Pasta 2The type of flour isn't particularly critical. All purpose flour makes excellent pasta, as does any other flour. My preference is about 1 part semolina flour to 2 parts all purpose flour. Semolina flour makes pasta nicely toothy, but too much semolina is really hard to work unless you're using a high-power pasta machine. Many dried pastas are made with 100% semolina flour.

Pasta 3To roll out the dough, I generally use the Kitchen Aid pasta roller set. Manual pasta machines work well, but you need to be able to clamp them to the table or counter or you'll never be able to roll out your pasta. You can also roll out the dough by hand, but be prepared for some serious rolling time.

To get started, roughly measure the flour. Honestly, if you're close, you're just fine. No precision required here. Then add the eggs.

Pasta 4Start breaking up the eggs with a fork, and pull in flour from the edges until you realize that you aren't making any more progress. Then clean off the fork and knead the dough by hand until it all comes together and you can form a nice ball of pasta dough. It'll feel a bit rough. Cover that ball and let it rest for at least fifteen minutes. If you want to let it rest longer, use a damp towel to cover it.

Pasta 5When you're ready to roll the dough, divide it into whatever number of finished portions you're making. Using one portion at a time, roll it out.

The first pass through the pasta machine doesn't seem to do much, but that's okay. Just use flour liberally, keep folding the dough into thirds or quarters, and pass it through the rollers again.

After several passes through the rollers the texture and color will change. The dough becomes lighter in color and begins to feel silky. That's when you start to adjust the setting on the roller to make the pasta thinner. With the Kitchen Aid attachment I generally get to 5. The same setting on a manual machine isn't as thin, but it's about as thin as I ever manage to get the dough.

Pasta 6The goal is to be able to see your hand through the dough. Sometimes it tears. If it does, just fold it up, back the roller up one setting, and continue rolling. If the pasta feels a bit sticky, dust it with flour.

When you're satisfied that your dough is silky smooth and pale enough, it's time to cut or shape it. The sheets you're making are perfect for lasagna, ravioli, or even tortellini.

Pasta 7If you cut the pasta you'll want to hang it somewhere to let it dry a bit. Those handy bars around counters that you thought were for towels are actually built-in pasta dryers! Be sure to clean and flour them liberally.

There are two things I've never seen explained in pasta recipes that can cause disasters. The first is that cut pasta can re-fuse itself if you don't separate the strands rather quickly and flour them liberally; the resulting lump can be unpleasant. The second is that you really only want to let it dry a few minutes before moving it from the drying rack to a sheet pan. If you happily let the pasta hang on that handy rack it will shatter when you try to get it off and put it in the pot. Trust me, I've done it. The best flour for dusting the finished pasta is white rice flour, but all purpose flour works fine.

When you're ready to cook the pasta, be prepared because it cooks much faster than dried pasta. You should salt the water to the point that it tastes like the Mediterranean Sea, but never use oil. Also, the water must be at a rolling boil and the pot must be large.

Add one portion of pasta to the water. As soon as it floats to the surface it's done. Very thin pastas can cook in 30 seconds; the fettuccine made for this post took about 2 minutes. Use tongs to pull it out, or if you have one, cook it in a pasta basket.

Once you've made fresh egg pasta you'll be reluctant to buy dried pasta again, and you'll find that most "fresh" pasta you can buy just doesn't measure up. There's a bit of investment to get going, but you will not regret it once you've tasted your first homemade pasta.